The National Cycle Network is a network of safe, traffic-free paths and quiet on-road cycling and walking routes. Its 14,000 miles criss-cross the country, linking up villages, towns and cities.
Connecting people and places
The Network is used by almost five million people a year and runs into town centres, past schools and through stunning countryside from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles.
Despite its name, the Network is popular with walkers, joggers, wheelchair users and horse riders as well as people on bikes.
Over half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route, giving them the choice to walk and ride to work, school, the shops, or just for pleasure. Chances are there’s a route near you.
Did you know?
- Half of trips made on the National Cycle Network are by people walking.
- Over 27 million journeys on the Network are made by children travelling to and from school.
- 165 million commuting journeys are made on the Network.
- One in five people using the Network are new to cycling or starting to cycle again.
- Over 85% of people who use the Network feel fitter as a result.
- Over 50% of people using the Network feel it helps them save money.
A memorable journey
The National Cycle Network is used and enjoyed every day of the year and for every kind of journey - from the school run and commute to weekend bike rides and long-distance challenge rides.
Whatever your journey on the Network, we want it to more than just a way of getting from A to B. That’s why we commission local artists to develop artwork on the routes that makes your journey memorable. And it’s why we are working hard to conserve wildlife and habitats on the traffic-free routes, ensuring biodiversity thrives.
How the Network began
When Sustrans was set up in Bristol in 1977 we had a vision to improve conditions for people walking and cycling.
By the early 1990s we had built cycling and walking routes all over the country mainly using disused railway paths and canal towpaths. They weren’t, however, linked together. So, in 1995, we campaigned and won the first ever grant from the Millennium Commission for £42.5 million to create our vision of a UK-wide network of high-quality, convenient routes for walking and cycling. To create the Network that exists today we have worked with hundreds of partners.
See our timeline for more about our 40-year history: Sustrans at 40.
Ownership of the National Cycle Network
The National Cycle Network is mainly owned by local authorities and other landowners like Network Rail, the Highways Agency, National Trust, Forestry Commission and Canal and River Trust. We are responsible for 348 miles of the Network where we have purchased or been gifted the land.
The impact of the Network
When we started creating the National Cycle Network in 1995 we couldn’t have foreseen the tremendous impact it has on people’s lives and the environment.
Our research shows that when you make it easier for people to walk and cycle, whether for leisure or commuting, it has a positive impact on society.
In 2014 the National Cycle Network brought these benefits:
- Almost 30 million car trips were replaced by people choosing to travel on the Network, meaning less congestion, noise pollution and CO2 emissions.
- The Network saved the UK economy over £160 million by reducing the impact of obesity and overweight with £22 million of this saved from the NHS budget.
- Holidays and days out on the Network generated £650 million for the economy and supported more than 15,000 jobs.
How the Network continues to develop
Our vision for the National Cycle Network going forwards is of a network of safe, traffic-free routes connecting and crossing settlements and countryside, and inspiring a new generation to get on their bikes.
We aim to provide one, high-quality standard for routes, whether on or off-road. We want to give users of the Network a uniform, high quality, predictable and safe experience.
This vision will put the National Cycle Network in line with our stated position on high-quality infrastructure, which is to be:
- Physically segregated from traffic, either as a traffic-free route for walking and cycling or with segregated cycle lanes when on road.
- On roads that have low traffic flows and speeds which make them safe for cycling.
A review of the National Cycle Network
During 2017 and 2018 we’re carrying out a review of the National Cycle Network. We are assessing the Network’s present physical condition by using a nationwide audit we recently completed.
We’ll use this information to work with partners to call on governments for dedicated and ongoing funding for the development and maintenance of existing walking and cycling routes, including the National Cycle Network.
We believe that some parts of the Network could and should be better maintained and we urge all local authorities to prioritise this to ensure more people are able to walk and cycle.
Maintaining the National Cycle Network
Responsibility for maintenance of the routes lies mainly with local authorities and the Highways Agency and other landowners like The National Trust, Network Rail and Canal and River Trust. Sustrans owns a small proportion of the National Cycle Network, and for 80% of this land we are responsible for its upkeep. Sustrans is also contracted to maintain land on behalf of some local authorities.
We recruit and support a large community of volunteers who help to look after the routes in their area, keeping them looking their best and ensuring signage is consistent and easy to navigate.
Funding maintenance of the Network
Caring for the Network is a costly and ongoing challenge. Each year we spend around £1.3 million fulfilling our routine maintenance responsibilities on the parts of the National Cycle Network we own. We also fund thousands of volunteers who kindly give up their time to help keep paths clear of vegetation, glass and other hazards, replace signs, and improve the routes for everyone to enjoy.
As a charity, we rely on donations to fund the vast majority of this work. All our other funding is to deliver specific initiatives on behalf of Government, local authorities and others that commission our practical work across the UK.